Caissa At The Diplomacy Table

By Paul D. Windsor

This is my second attempt at imposing order on chaos. In my first article for The Pouch, I presented a system for talking to fellow players, in the hopes that the structured reason of the law could help you prevail in negotiations. In this article, I wish to present a systematic approach to formulating over-the-board moves. The system I wish to propose is also one of structured reason, albeit from an altogether different source: the game of chess.

Successful chess players follow a specific set of strategic rules for playing. These rules include: strive for control of key space, conserve time, recognize the strong vs. the weak pieces, play combinatively and develop pieces in the opening sensibly. All of these concepts are also applicable to formulating the sound over-the-board moves which are the essential basis of good Diplomacy. The most blarneyed tongue in Ireland can't help a player who cannot formulate sound over-the-board moves. Indeed, your ability to deliver strategically sound movement proposals to other players can often be the strongest incentive of all for someone to become or remain your loyal ally. Even more, the principles of chess can often lead you to the best diplomatic strategies in a game, as well as the best moves.

Chess and Diplomacy: Fundamentally the Same

Both chess and Diplomacy are strategic simulations of war carried out on a finite battlefield. In both games, each player begins with essentially equal forces. Both games are turn-based, making time a greater factor as the game progresses.

When I introduce new people to chess, I tell them that the game of chess has three distinct dimensions: force, space and time. A beginner typically looks at the board and counts up the pieces to determine who is winning. That beginner is only examining the dimension of force. A more advanced player will count the pieces, but will also look at how each player is employing his pieces to control the board (examining space) and how actively and deeply the pieces of each player are placed relative to his opponent's (examining time), before coming to a conclusion regarding who is winning.

Diplomacy is similar. It is the poorer players who are obsessed with their turn-to-turn SC counts and whose only idea of a target is the next SC on the horizon. One can't tell, however, who stands better on the board just by counting the dots. Time and space matter as much as force. In my experience, new centers are gained much more often by the superior manipulation of the dimensions of time and space than are won by either superior force or stealthy stabs. In fact, the good stab (the most overanalyzed, overrated, and undoubtedly overattempted of all of Diplomacy's strategies) inevitably succeeds only because it was predicated upon one player's demonstrable positional superiority in the dimensions of time and space over the other player. The reverse is true about bad stabs (which outnumber the good ones I've seen by a fair margin). They inevitably fail because the player who stabbed did not have sufficient superiority in time and space to translate his temporary gain in force into a permanent advantage.

The strategies for formulating successful over-the-board chess moves at an advanced level involve creating incremental (sometimes, almost imperceptable) improvements in time and space over your opponent. This accumulation of small advantages can then be translated (often seemingly suddenly, not unlike stabbing in Diplomacy) into decisive material gain or a crushing attack. Since Diplomacy similarly exists in the dimensions of time and space as well as force, it stands to reason that the best maneuvering strategies might well be similar.

Caissa beckons to you: listen to her words.

Caissa's First Principle: Strive for Control of Key Space

"But Caissa," I hear you moan, "that principle is self-evident." Ah, but Caissa is not here to lecture you about knowing the soft-spot provinces, knowing which provinces are occupied most often, keeping Russia out of the Black Sea when you are Turkey, or any other bit of micromanagement of your budding empire. Besides, if you read The Pouch, then you already know about all of those things. There is a difference, however, between knowing those things and knowing how to make use of them. It is possible that the centuries-old Caissa can teach the youthful (merely decades-old) gamers of Diplomacy something about that. Making use of this knowledge involves making proper use of the dimension of space.

In chess, the key territory for much of the game is the four center squares. For centuries, the best strategy for both players was thought to be to attempt to control the central squares by direct occupation. This proved a great deal more difficult for players of the black pieces. Owing to black's disadvantage in time, white was able to consistently oust black from the key center squares at critical moments. More recently (the first part of this century), the modern idea began to be employed (especially by players of the black pieces) of controlling the center squares indirectly, by directing force at them, rather than by occupying them with pawns or other pieces. Today, the most overwhelmingly popular strategies for players of the black pieces (and some of the popular opening systems for white, as well) employ this idea of indirect control of the key center squares without occupying them.

This dynamic of control without occupation also occurs on the Diplomacy board with reliable regularity. One example occurs when two would-be allies agree to demilitarize a key province between them in order to facilitate cooperation. Many a player will then think to himself, "now I don't have to worry about that province anymore," and begin a new phase of maneuvering, one that no longer accounts for that province as key. He not only refrains from occupying the province, as agreed, but also fails to influence the (in his mind, no longer key) province with adjacent units (perhaps the movement suggestions of his ally had something to do with it as well). His ally's maneuvering plans, however, regularly include movement of pieces through or into provinces adjoining the key province, thereby maintaining control over it, even though the province remains unoccupied. Inevitably, the first player finds himself the unhappy recipient of a dagger sent straight through that province. Likely, it will be a shot to which he has no reply.

Think of the example of the English player who has a Channel treaty with France. He "naturally" keeps a fleet in the North Sea. He demands, however, that France may not keep a fleet in the Mid-Atlantic nor may he build one in Brest. If his demands are met, then the "DMZ" is actually controlled by England, via the North Sea fleet. At any opportunistic time, the English player may send his North Sea fleet into the Channel, and France, who has no other response, will only bemoan the treacherous nature of Diplomacy players, never identifying his own real mistake.

The unhappy French player in the above example did not adequately account for his opponent's control over the DMZ'ed province, thinking himself safe merely because it remained unoccupied. Whenever thinking about a province, a player must get in the habit of visualizing that province as never apart from every other province it touches. Only by a complete visualization of the whole space related to a province will a true reckoning of the state of control over that province be had.

A different example occurs, not between allies, but between enemies in the heat of battle. The battle for control of a key province is then overt, but the failure to recognize the difference between occupying a province and controlling it still occurs. In a game in which I am a current participant, England (myself) was attacking St. Petersburg in the Spring. The Russian player could have defended that province through the end of two game years simply by keeping an army in Moscow, where its support of St. Petersburg was unbreakable by my fleets. The Russian player "knew," however, that Livonia was a key province to control in his defense, so he ordered A Mos-Lvn in the Spring. This move succeeded. The result was that I was able to use a fleet Baltic (which would otherwise have been unable to influence the results in St. Petersburg that Fall) to cut the support given by the Livonian army in the Fall and take St. Petersburg a year ahead of schedule.

The Russian commander in this example failed to recognize that he already controlled Livonia through his units in Warsaw, Moscow, and St. Petersburg. Occupation of Livonia was not only unnecessary, but actually interfered with effective control of both that province and the neighboring supply center he sought to protect. This example also highlights the point that the space on the board relevant to control of a key province often includes not just the key province and its bordering provinces, but also the provinces adjacent to the bordering provinces as well. In this example, my Russian enemy lost St. Petersburg, in part because he did not account for the ability of a fleet in the Baltic Sea to affect matters there.

A third example; this from a game not my own. A friend (and fellow chess player) was playing Germany in a game in which he had convinced Italy and England to gang up on France with him. Germany made the early gains, capturing Paris and Belgium (his unit in Belgium was a fleet), while England had yet to capture Brest. Germany determined that the time was ripe to stab England. The plan he hatched involved stabbing England by supporting him into Brest. A strange way to stab, by helping an ally to a build, yes? No. Germany's plan involved talking England out of occupying the key North Sea province "temporarily" by convincing England to order F Nth-Eng (in order for England to beat Italy to the Iberian dots) on the same turn that his fleet in the Channel captured Bre. The opportunity to control the North Sea was important enough to Germany to allow England to gain a center, as long as it meant that England would successfully move his fleets away from the North Sea.

England was seduced by the promise of a build and mollified by the opportunity to "immediately" reoccupy the North Sea with his newly-built fleet (which Germany had required be built in Edinburgh and not in London -- Germany wanted that fleet to be unable to support action in the Channel). Over the next two game turns, Germany would, first, use his fleet Belgium to bounce England out of the North Sea while England ordered his Channel fleet into the Mid-Atlantic, and then, in the Fall, use that same Belgium fleet to bounce English fleets out of the Channel (now disputing control of the province adjacent on the enemy side to the key province). Using the fleet to bounce England out of the Channel allowed English re-occupation of the North Sea, but it kept two English fleets out of position while Germany used two builds gained that year to build critical extra fleets. England crowed when he made it back into the North Sea in the Fall, but the fact was that Germany's "failed" stab had moved the spatial battle from the North Sea to the English Channel. England's North Sea fleet was unsupported and it faced the entire German navy, while his other fleets were out of position on the far side of the Channel. England soon succumbed to the German attack.

In all three of the above examples, the decisive mistake occured when a player confused the ability to occupy a province with the ability to control it. In the case of the DMZ agreement, the successful player was always conscious of who controlled the DMZ, even though it remained unoccupied. In the case of the war for St. Petersburg, Russia's occupation of his soft-spot at Livonia actually interfered with his previously sound control of both that province and St. Petersburg. In the case of the German stab of England, the German maneuvered to get his ally to relinquish control of both the key province and a province adjacent to the key province, allowing temporary enemy occupation of the key province and even temporary enemy SC growth, because that temporary SC growth and temporary occupation were irrelevant to ultimate control of the key province.

In other words, in all three examples, the advantage went to the player whose grasp of the importance, influence and power of space was superior. The winning combination of moves and the winning diplomatic initiative were both arrived at by grasping the impact of the dimension of space on the position.

Caissa's Second Principle: Conserve Time

"Okay, Caissa," a wary voice pipes up, "that bit about space had something going for it, but what can you possibly tell us that's new about time? To win the war, you get there the firstest with the mostest. What more is there to say?"

Plenty, of course.

Caissa informs us, regarding chess, that beginners' books advise novices to move each of their pieces only once in the opening phase of the game. Thereafter, the beginning player is advised to place pieces where they can have the most impact on the enemy position and, preferably, not be chased away by enemy attacks. Each opening move is a "tempo" in chess parlance, emphasizing the importance of time. Bringing one's queen out early and having it be chased around by lesser pieces (that are being "developed") by the opponent is a "waste of tempi" and a mistake that marks a player as a novice. A player who exchanges a piece that has moved only once for an enemy piece that has moved several times is said to have recieved tempi in the exchange. In chess, gaining an early advantage in tempi is so valued that entire opening systems have been created around the concept of sacrificing pawns (force) to gain an advantage in tempi (time).

In general terms, the tempi concept applies to Diplomacy, even though every unit is ordered every turn. Keep a running account of the other players' orders. How many of them were supports or holds? How many attempted moves bounced? How many of each players' units have actually moved and how many times? How many of your own? Were those moves outward or is the other player being forced to maneuver on defense within his own borders? In other words, count the tempi and the wasted tempi for each player. Those who are falling behind are falling into trouble. They are your targets.

Let's return to the example of our enterprising German friend and his erstwhile ally, England. What Germany recognized in the position that I described was not that he had grown larger than England, but that he had grown faster. His advantage lay not in force (he and England were evenly matched in fleets), but in time. The difference is critical.

Had Germany refused his ally the build, built his own fleets immediately, and tried to force his way into the North Sea, he would have been far from certain to succeed, with England occupying the Channel and the North Sea. England could have made peace with France and defended the seas with vigor. Even lacking French friendship, England could have decided the naval battle was the one to fight, determined that he'd rather see French units take the Isles from the West than treacherous German succeed from the East. Germany would have needed luck to make it into North Sea in the Fall and no new SC gains were likely that year. France would have cruised to Liverpool via the Irish Sea in a year. Germany stabs, but France gets the gains. An old (and oft-repeated) story about a failed stab. Unfortunately, this kind of ham-handed stab attempt is rather more common than any other. Like the garden-variety chess player, the common Diplomacy player counts his pieces and, if he has more, decides he should win by force.

Our German friend, however, did not react this way. He recognized that his advantage lay in his advantage in tempi. Germany (who had been planning to stab England from the beginning) had already built a second fleet, using his 1901 builds. He had explained to England that he needed it in the Baltic Sea to balance the Russian fleet in Sweden. England did not feel threatened by a Germany operating two fleets at opposite ends of the map, so he did not object. After Germany got to Belgium and Paris first, England felt completely reassured when Germany followed up with his promise to support him into Brest and when Germany built two armies. Germany, however, was still pursuing his advantage in time. With his subsequent bounces of England in the North Sea and then in the Channel, Germany caused England to waste tempi (of England's six orders for three fleets across two turns, only one advanced a fleet towards Germany and one actually moved a fleet further away). At the same time, Germany was able to use his two new armies to capture Warsaw and his fleet/army pair in the Baltic Sea and Denmark to take Sweden. With his two new centers, he built two new fleets, quickly took the North Sea, and put England out of the game shortly thereafter.

Thus, Germany converted an initial advantage in time into a (rare) successful stab of England. He recognized that his advantage in time would both allow him to "sacrifice" a center to England and to make the "wrong" first set of builds for a stab on England (lulling England all the more into that false sense of security). Both counter-intuitive strategies allowed Germany to build an even greater advantage in time. When the advantage became overwhelming, it was easily converted, first, to control of a key province (space), then (finally!), to the destruction of the intended victim (force).

A second example illustrates the value of calculating tempi in a different way. I played the French pieces in my first game on a judge and it didn't start well. England and Germany had ganged up on me. By the end of 1902, Germany had switched sides by stabbing England, but it was a good stab. He had succeeded in expanding his control over space and conserving time. Even though I now had six SC's, I had been forced to waste tempi for two years defending myself and I did not stand well in comparison to Germany as a result. Stabbing Germany myself was impossible due to my poor command of space and my deficit in time. Had I been asked to play with these same disadvantages in a chess game, I would probably have been done for.

When I looked at the whole board, however, it became apparent that everyone except Germany had wasted tempi enormously. Russia and Turkey were in a death-lock struggle over the Black Sea; six units were involved in all, each getting nowhere. Austria had switched allegiance twice in the Russo-Turkish wars without noticeably improving his position. Italy had tried to get at Turkey and Greece, but was hampered in his efforts by a lack of cooperation from the fickle Austrian. Apart from Germany, only Russia had made any useful progress (in Scandanavia) after two years. I determined, therefore, not to act rashly. My wasted tempi placed me no worse than others (except Germany, naturally). I had the luxury of time to work out my problem.

The other notable feature of the board was that, owing to two years of maneuvers to the west and north, Germany's command of key provinces in those directions was impressive, but his command of key provinces to his east and south was nonexistent. Thus, militarily, I spent 1903 doing no more than Germany would allow while he sought to mop up England. Diplomatically, however, I was coordinating Russia, Italy, and England in a grand "stop the leader" attack. When that attack happened, I only got one SC (from England) as a result, but I also got a noticeably improved position against Germany as his gains in tempi and control of key space evaporated along with three of his SC's (and their corresponding units). Other players got tangible gains as well, but because they were as far behind in tempi as I was, those gains were not a threat to me.

Examining the board in terms of time allowed me to realize that it was not necessary for me to seek my own growth to remain competitive in the game. I needed only to seek Germany's ruin. As it happened, the latter goal was much more easily achieved (through diplomacy) than the former (through military strength). Once again, Caissa's wisdom revealed the correct diplomatic initiative. With the board rebalanced, I was able to seek new opportunities and alliances. Ultimately, I went on to win the game.

Caissa urges you: think in terms of time. Keep track of the use of time resources by all players. Target the ones who are not using their time resources effectively (or, if required, but rarely without help, target the ones who are). Look for moves and strategies that cause your opponent to waste more time than you are employing. Do not stab an ally unless your advantage in time, space, and force together justify the strategy. Even then, do not expect the stab to succeed by force alone, but continue to seek advantages in time and space as well. Strange to say, but Caissa can teach us a great deal about the art of stabbing.

Caissa's Third Principle: Recognize Strong vs. Weak Pieces

"All right, Caissa, I'll pay more attention to time and space in the future, but how can I tell the difference between a strong and a weak piece? I know that in chess, some pieces are more powerful than others, but aren't all Diplomacy units equal in power?" Caissa sees that she has your attention now.

It is true that in chess, pieces have different values, but it is also true that the same piece can be strong or weak, depending on where the piece is placed or the position on the board. "A knight on the rim is dim. A knight in the center is better." That's a rhyme for beginners to learn about piece placement. There's not a rhyme for it, but an advanced player knows that a knight supported by a pawn and posted on the sixth rank in an open center file stands best of all. Bishops stand better on long diagonals and are nearly worthless when blocked by their own pawns. Rooks belong on open files and, when doubled on open files, become enormously powerful. Penetrate a rook into the enemy back ranks and the game will soon be over. The value of pieces fluctuates drastically depending on their position on the board. The relative positioning of a piece in time and space has everything to say about its value to the player who wields it.

Much of what might be said here is covered elsewhere: just as bishops belong on long diagonals and rooks on open files, armies are most effective in landlocked provinces, and fleets in the deep blue. Coastal provinces tend to weaken the power of any unit stationed there by reducing its movement and support potential, in much the same fashion that the edge of a chess board emasculates the knight. There are, however, some noteworthy exceptions: a fleet in Denmark or Greece is well placed, owing to its unreduced movement potential and command over key provinces. As noted, however, this kind of tactical detail is well-covered in other articles. I wish to focus on three special cases: the forward unit, the unit behind enemy lines, and the overburdened defender. Caissa has repeatedly observed that Diplomacy players do not seem to appreciate the special powers and special dangers posed by such units.

1. The Forward Unit

I liken forward units to knights that I have lodged deep into the enemy position, which paralyzes my opponent's pieces and which cannot be easily traded off. Such positioning makes a knight several times more powerful than it is ordinarily worth. Sad to say, I've played in numerous Diplomacy games in which my opponents did not recognize the power of their own forward pieces.

An obvious example of failure to understand the power of forward units has occurred in a no-press game in which I am currently participating. Because it is gunboat and ongoing, I must be general in my description, but believe the point can be made. I am one of several powers who stand roughly equally well in the game after somewhere between five and ten years. By all rights, I should be one of those who is eliminated or on the brink of it. The storyline of the game for me has been a seasaw battle between myself and a neighboring power. Fortunes have risen and faded between us like the tide. Each of us have been forced to disband a unit at the end of a year of bad fortune. When I was forced to disband, I chose to remove one of my rearward units and continued to press my attack. When my enemy was forced to disband, he removed a unit that he had actually worked into the middle of my holdings, favoring his defensive units. Had he kept the forward unit, I would have been forced to waste several tempi corraling and destroying it while he could have used the same time to launch a new follow-up offensive (one which I had calculated would ruin me).

That forward enemy unit was worth any three of mine, but my enemy removed it from the board. He was so overly impressed by the possibility of losing a center in the short term to my attack that he willingly scrapped a unit that represented both an enormous investment of tempi for himself and a crippling influence over the space inside my own borders (not to mention the tempi that I would have been forced to give up dealing with it). Retaining a single center was a very poor exchange for the loss of such a powerful unit.

An excellent example of factoring the value of time into saving a forward unit occurs in The Pouch Showcase game ghodstoo. [I've no connection with The Pouch, by the way. I do think, however, that ghodstoo is a very instructive game and worthy of study by everyone.] In that game, France chose not to eliminate a one center England in Fall of 1906, though he could have easily done so. England would go on to share part of a three way draw with France and Turkey when the game ended in 1911. Italy criticized France for this in his EOG, saying: "I never understand things like that. If you take a small opponent out of the game, you never have to worry about him again." France replied that he kept England alive because he needed that English fleet for tactical considerations. Indeed, keeping that forward fleet, and England, himself, alive was absolutely correct, and probably the most critical tactical decision France made the whole game.

At that point in ghodstoo, France and Turkey had each stabbed their last allies and were emerging as the leading contenders for victory. The game was shaping up as a race between them and the race was going to be close. Time was a critical factor. In Fall of 1906, France was trying to execute a successful stab of Germany, who had started 1906 the same size as France and who could offer tough resistance. That same Fall, the English fleet was ideally positioned in the Helgoland Bight. Had France eliminated England that Fall, the English fleet would have disappeared from the map and France would have had to waste critical time replacing its force effect on key provinces in that region (a loss of time, space, and force!). Saving England was the difference between continuing the forward momentum of French units in the Spring of 1907 and pausing for a season to bring in fresh troops.

Further, England earned builds in subsequent years, which allowed the F/E alliance to create friendly fleets much closer to the front than building them in Brest would have, conserving even more precious tempi in the race against Turkey. As it happened, Turkey was stopped at seventeen centers and F/E locked up the stalemate line just one move ahead of Turkey taking an eighteenth center. Had France eliminated England in 1906, his conquest of the remainder of Germany would have been several tempi less efficient. And, as the game's conclusion showed, had France been even one tempo less efficient, Turkey would have won the game.

So we see that critically powerful forward units aren't always the same color as your own. If you automatically think of that last unit of a nearly-eliminated power as a niusance to be swept from the board, you are missing opportunities. As often as not, that one-unit power can be the point at the tip of your spear. Just as in two of the other examples described above -- my turnaround game as France and my friend's treacherously successful Germany -- victory in the latter stages of the game was achieved, in part, because the winning player convinced a minor power with a strategically placed unit to become his ally. [Once again, tactical considerations help define diplomatic strategy.] While it is true (as Italy complained in ghodstoo) that keeping another player alive keeps an extra Joker in the deck, I'd rather deal with that risk than willingly toss a trump card out of my hand.

Forward units are several times more valuable than the SC's that they represent. They also represent an enormous investment in tempi and, by their nature, invariably exert critical influence over critical space on the board. The rule in chess is: never willingly trade off a powerful piece. Your feeling about forward units in Diplomacy should be the same. [Defenders should keep that rule in mind and look for opportunities to trap and destroy such units.]

2. Units Behind Enemy Lines

As powerful as the forward unit is, there is an even more powerful unit: the unit behind enemy lines. Like the rook penetrating to the opponent's back rank, the unit that sneaks behind the enemy front signals the imminent demise of the victimized player.

In that gunboat no-press game I told you about earlier, I said that by all rights I should be dead. My enemy's ill-fated decision to remove a forward unit is actually the lesser reason. The greater reason I should be dead is that twice now, my enemy has had the opportunity to retreat a dislodged unit behind my lines, but has not done so. In each case, he would have certainly taken one of my home centers (on the first such occasion, a whole vista of empty centers actually lay in front of my opponent's unit had he retreated it agressively), but he would have been risking a center of his own at the same time. On each occasion, my opponent retreated defensively, which temporarily protected his centers, but also allowed my attack to continue. Had he retreated agressively, I would be finished. Instead, I am now finishing him.

A more interesting example occurred in the earlier described case of the treacherous German. In the later stages of that game, Germany was stuck on fourteen centers and was becoming mired down (losing tempi) trying to move south against Italy, Turkey, and the remains of Russia (a decimated one-unit Austria had become Germany's pawn). At a certain point, Germany devised a set of orders that left a unit in a key province (Silesia) unsupported. [Note that Germany was willing to allow enemy occupation of a key province and risk the weakening of his own home centers to accomplish his objective.] His reasoning was that he saw the only way for his opponents to dislodge the unit would be to allow it to retreat to Galicia, where it would be behind enemy lines and could walk, unopposed, to places like Rumania, Ukraine, and Sevastopol. He banked on his opponents thinking he would rather disband his dislodged unit and rebuild at home to protect the centers that their advance would threaten than to retreat forward to Galicia. Naturally, he crossed them up and chose the Galician retreat. The whole stalemate line became unglued trying to track down and kill the marauding unit behind their lines. Germany grew from fourteen to seventeen centers until he was stopped again, and that might have been the end. Except that Germany was able to succeed again with the same tactic (this time, by intentionally failing to support his forward unit in Tyrolia and allowing it to be dislodged). It was what won the game for him.

The unit behind enemy lines is such an enormous distraction to the defender that one must seriously consider placing it there, even if it has no hope of capturing a center. The threat posed by the mere presence of such a unit is often sufficient to cause your enemy to assign two, three, or even four units that were formerly on the attack to defensive maneuvers. The gain in space or tempi that results is often well worth eventually losing the lonely maurader. I've never seen a position recover from the crippling effect of a back rank maurauder.

3. The Overburdened Defender

One example of an especially weak unit is the overburdened defender. This is a unit that is potentially responsible for defending more than one province, either by covering those provinces itself, or by lending support to other units (or both). Overburdened defenders are a common feature of both Diplomacy and chess. There are two proper reactions to an overburdened defender: (i) attack it, or (ii) pressure it until the defending forces are completely tied down, then shift targets.

In chess, the overburdened defender is often the object of a sacrifice. That is, a piece more valuable than the defender will be exchanged for it -- seemingly a loss for the attacker. Such losses are usually very short-term, however, because the attacking player is generally able to win all of the objectives that the removed defender was formerly defending.

In Diplomacy, the overburdened defender can be found anywhere that units are thick, but is most often found somewhere between Switzerland and St. Pete in an attempt to hold a stalemate line that isn't quite organized yet.

I am currently in the midst of breaking down just such an incomplete stalemate line in a current game. An analysis of a recent position revealed not one but two overburdened defenders in that line. Having spotted the overburdened defenders, the moves to take advantage suggested themselves. Those infamous "decision squares" discussed in other Pouch articles can be very helpful in spotting overburdened defenders. By assisting in analyzing different combinations of moves, decision squares can often reveal the thematic weaknesses in an enemy position. I regard decision squares as a tool of discovery and not an end unto themselves. They rarely (at least for me) provide a final solution, but they can help in finding the way.

Caissa's advice is: when trying to punch through an incomplete line, attack the overburdened defender, even if that means sacrificing a supply center. If you punch a hole in that line, all the extra SC's in the world won't save your enemy from the units that get across the line.

The alternative to attacking the overburdened defender is to pile on the pressure. In chess, a player attacking a weakness in the opponent's position often continues to bring pieces to bear on it, even if he calculates that his opponent can muster a complete defense. The purpose for maintaining and increasing the pressure is that attacking units are, by virtue of being on the attack, more mobile than are defensive units. Once the attacking player has the defensive player's pieces stagnated in a defensive posture, the attacking player can then shift targets abruptly. The defending player is helpless to respond since his pieces are optimally placed to defend the previous target, not the new one. As a consequence, his position crumbles quickly.

In Diplomacy, the ability to shift targets can occur even more abruptly, for two reasons. First, unlike in chess, one can order all of one's units in Diplomacy simultaneously. This will put the defender several tempi behind in his defense all at once. Second, also unlike in chess, the flank attack on an opponent is always latent in the existence of more than one neighboring power. By pinning a power into a defensive posture, you typically invite a stab on him from the other direction. Care should be taken, however, not to create a condition in which another player gets the spoils that are rightfully your own.

Overburdened defenders are something to look for in everyone's position (including your own). Seeing an overburdened defender and taking proper advantage of it is usually a function of looking at all of the principles we have been discussing and forming a long range plan based on what you find. This leads naturally to a discussion of Caissa's Fourth Principle.

Caissa's Fourth Principle: Combinative Play

Caissa hears a contempletive voice from the center of the crowd: "Hmmmm. When you first said 'combinative play,' I assumed you were talking about supports and convoys and things like that. I'm guessing now that you had something else on your mind."


Most non-chessplayers assume that chess masters are plotting complex series of specific moves; calculating moves and counter-moves in dizzying arrays. Novice chess players tend to analyze moves thusly: "let's see, if I go here, he'll go there, but if I go there, he'll go here." Garden variety Diplomacy players tend to send me movement proposals in press that read the same way. Advanced players of both games, however, spend the majority of their movement planning time on matters other than specific moves.

The first questions advanced chess players ask themselves are: "What are the strengths and weaknesses of my opponent's position? And of my own? Which are my (and my opponent's) strong pieces? Which are the weak? Which spaces are important to occupy in this position? Which are important to control?" Having decided these preliminary matters, the advanced player then follows up by asking himself, "Where can I ideally place my pieces to best exploit the advantages I have? Where will my opponent attempt to place his pieces based on his advantages?" Having determined where he wants his own pieces to go and where he does not want his opponent's pieces to go, the advanced chess player finally gets around to considering individual moves. Only then does he set about the task of selecting the combination of moves that most efficiently combines the ideals of creating the best posts for his own pieces and blocking the best posts of his opponent's, based on his view of the strengths and weaknesses for each player in the position. Since the advanced chess player has his positional goals in mind, the moves to those goals usually quickly present themselves. Complex calculations occasionally occur, but are seldom required.

If we go back and review the previous examples, we can see that, in addition to providing examples of individual concepts like space and time, they also provide examples of combinative play. The treacherous German of the previous examples recognized (because he was thinking about it) that he had an advantage in time. That was his strength. His weakness (and his opponent's strength) was England's advantage in fleets (force), and the placement of those fleets (space), which gave England control of the Channel and the North Sea, plus control of several provinces currently in Germany's possession (don't forget that one can possess a province, but not control it). The German determined that he would stand better if he eliminated these weaknesses, even if he sacrificed a center to England to do it. After that, the plan of action for posting his own pieces (and seducing England into badly posting his own) suggested itself.

My turnaround game as France displays a similar meta-analysis of time and space factors that characterizes combinative play. Importantly, my ultimate plan was conceived only after consideration of time and space conditions for every single player on the board. I could not have trusted the plan to coordinate an attack on Germany that would not net me any German SC's, without knowing that I wasn't simply throwing the game to another player. Still, though I was not able to employ it, I had an alternate plan in mind for friendship with Germany. I tried to reason with the German by looking ahead (in the manner of combinative analysis) and saying something like, "if you keep your present course, in two years I envision a position of...." To my great surprise (at that time, anyway), the German mocked me in his reply for purporting to be able to envision the state of the board in the future.

I have since discovered that many (if not most) Diplomacy players play the game strictly from turn to turn and regard advanced planning as useless. Chess player that I am, I wouldn't even know how to begin to select moves without looking ahead. Looking ahead is the whole point of combinative analysis. The long range goal is the only thing that makes the movement orders you write today meaningful. Imagine the enormous advantage you will have over most Diplomacy players if you employ these long-range thinking tools.

As a final example, I urge you again to study The Pouch's Showcase game ghodstoo. In particular, study the EOG's and the press. The press reveals that every single player in that game was examining the whole board, talking to every player and thinking combinatively, even the players who were on the brink of elimination. I think that the press in 1906, when France and Turkey executed their last big stabs and Russia and England were both down to a single unit, is especially instructive.

Numerous other articles on successful play will tell you to talk to every player in the game and look at the whole board every turn. Caissa emphatically agrees with this advice. Disciplining yourself to continuous re-analysis of the whole board will allow you to see and develop combinative strategies that might never suggest themselves as rational strategies otherwise. If you are not talking to every player, all of the time, your diplomatic efforts to implement new plans may fall on deaf ears. Heaven forbid that you should miss the opportunity to outflank an agressive opponent because you weren't talking to the player on the other side of the board or that you fail to gain use of a dying power's forward unit because you previously ignored him (or worse, were rude to him in your press).

Caissa's Advice Regarding Sound Openings

As in chess, it seems that most of the written analysis a new Diplomacy player encounters is devoted to the opening. Caissa won't willingly overburden a crowded marketplace by adding to it or try to tell you which of these articles she thinks is better than the others. Instead, Caissa is going to give you a homework assignment: go re-read those articles now.

Caissa hears you moaning and mumbling. Yes, she is serious. Read them again. This time, though, read them like a chess player.

Look at those openings which have been catalogued as most popularly played by each power and examine them to determine whether they weaken or strengthen control of key spaces. Examine them to determine whether they efficiently utilize tempi, or whether they waste them. Examine them to determine whether pieces are strongly or weakly placed at the end of 1901 (or 1902 or 1903). Challenge the repetitious conventional wisdom offered in most of them. Does it hold up to a Caissic point of view? Most importantly: does the author examine the potentials of each opening combinatively. That is to say, does the author even attempt to treat the idea of how to react to opening developments in other areas of the board, or is the analysis consumed with local matters? And does the author ever even discuss matters beyond 1901?

If you re-examine conventional wisdom in the light of a new paradigm, you will often be amazed at the thoughts you'll be thinking.


Time. Space. Force. Caissa hopes that these terms have new meaning for you now. Viewing the Diplomacy board as a combination of these dimensions, all of which can add to or subtract from the value of a position, is what will lead you to the superior movement orders and Diplomatic initiatives in almost any game. I also believe it is what separates the good players from the also-rans.

A final note. Caissic play at the Diplomacy table often leads to a bonus advantage: unpredictability. When you pursue more types of advantages than just obtaining your next SC, your opponents will often find themselves failing to anticipate your moves. In Diplomacy, even more than in chess, being unable to predict your opponent's moves is a deadly disadvantage. If for no other reason, playing Diplomacy like a chess player may be an advantage simply because it is different. That, in itself, may be enough to recommend giving the system a try.

Paul Windsor
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